• The Leopard Report: Don’t Forget the Obvious Stuff!

    July 5th, 2006

    As June passed into July, the number of Leopard wish lists increased. Every possible scenario has been envisioned as to what Apple ought to do as it continues working on Mac OS 10.5. There’s plenty of expected eye-candy among the possible suggestions, such as stacked folders, to make it easier to find your stuff.

    But before we get too far afield, I’d like to just sum up the clear and present issues that still perplex Mac users, or are just downright irritating. Now if I happen to mention something that may have already been addressed by Microsoft in Windows, bear with me. I just want something that works and works well, and I don’t care if it is influenced in a rival product. Apple’s interface designers will put their own smart spin on the thing.

    Understand that Leopard’s features are pretty frozen at this point, no doubt. To have a preview version available to developers beginning in August, Apple would have to be concentrating on making everything work together well enough to be at least usable. As Leopard progresses towards final release, there will be lots of under-the-hood fixes, no doubt, and interface elements may be fine-tuned, but the big stuff must be in a fair state of completion by about now.

    So anything I suggest, or you suggest, may not be of much influence, but you can always hope that a feature that may otherwise be ditched will be reconsidered. If not, there’s always 10.6, whatever it’ll be called.

    First and foremost is the Finder. Now I am not one of the people who craves a wholesale change. I think the basic look and feel is pretty decent as it is. I’m particularly impressed with the column view, but there are limitations, such as the inability to change the sorting order. Consider the common scenario, where you want to check the most recent files in a folder.

    But the Finder has more problems other than the need for any alterations in the look and feel. It remains broken. Just start, say, three simultaneous copying operations of a gigabyte or two of files and it’ll bring the Finder to its knees. This on a G5 Quad? The Finder’s inability to remember position, size, and even the view settings, such as whether to open new windows in column view, is another factor. Why create a preference option if it won’t work? And please don’t bother me with workarounds.

    The Open and Save dialogs are also flaky. Sometimes you type a character and it jumps to the lists beginning with that letter, and sometimes it doesn’t. Forget about size and positioning, which don’t always function. While some of you may just stick with, say, Default Folder X for power user options, Apple needs some of the basics. Why can’t you rebound to the last used file or folder or move and/or trash a file without having to return to the Finder? Then there’s always adding and removing an item from the Sidebar.

    When Dashboard came out, third parties thought of better ways to implement the strategy, such as allowing you to keep a widget open in the same environment or layer as your document window. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to connect frequently-used widgets, or bring up a control panel where you can just click on the one you want. Having them on a separate Dock layer is also annoying, especially if you have to page through a bunch of them.

    But here’s something that seems perfectly logical, but since it mimics behavior on Microsoft Windows, it’s apt to be rejected. Want to resize a Finder, Open/Save or document window? Why can’t you do it from any corner? Why reach for the bottom right? On a big screen that get tiresome. It even gets tiresome on a small screen. What about dragging the item about without having to reach for the title bar on windows that aren’t surrounded with brushed metal? Shouldn’t they all work the same?

    Questions, questions. These items alone may seem particularly petty, as do others that you might want to add. There’s even the fundamental interface difference between the Mac and Windows where closing all document windows on the latter exits or quits an application. You can do that in Mac OS X now, of course, with System Preferences, which only opens a single window. It’s very common for the less experienced in our audience to forget that an application is open, because all documents are closed. Yes, we have the arrow in the Dock, but if the Dock is tiny because it’s filled with icons, it can go unnoticed.

    Yes, I’ve now raised a very important user interface issue, one that has been part of the Mac OS for a long, long time. Maybe Apple should leave well enough alone, or maybe not.

    As I said, this is just the obvious stuff, and I haven’t even gotten started.

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    21 Responses to “The Leopard Report: Don’t Forget the Obvious Stuff!”

    1. Ivo Wiesner says:

      I would agree that there are a number of Finder issues that need sorting out – you have pretty much mentioned them all.

      However, the fact that applications don’t quit after the final window is closed is not one of them. This ‘feature’ has to be one of the most irritating aspects of Windows. How many times does it happen that one, being in the flow of quickly opening and closing a multitude of windows, inadvertently closes the very last window of an application (in particular the browser comes to mind). I know it happens a lot to me. Having to re-launch the application would be a big step back. Given that nowadays even entry level computers are pretty powerful machines, most open applications that just sit there, unnoticed and without being used, don’t even make a dent in the overall CPU performance. So, please let’s not Windowfy OS X when it doesn’t help with anything.
      I’d rather see Apple find a way for making it more obvious when an application is actually open. Those tiny little triangles at the bottom of the screen are hardly noticeable.

    2. Terry says:

      The Finer went from being Apple’s best demonstration of its technology to being an abomination. Gene, you’ve identified every little irksome problem with the Finder. Speed is atrocious. I used to be a tech for a VAR. we could set up copies of standard files easily. Today, copying files between my machines on my network is terribly slow.

      The Finder not respecting my view preferences is a serious impediment to productivity.

      Ivo is right though. Quitting an application should remain separate from closing files.

      Spotlight needs serious evolution to work. Here’s a thought- separate it from regular search. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve started entering a query and have Spotlight take off on whatever the first characters I typed were. How but a Return before Spotlight performs its tasks?

    3. Doug Young says:

      You mentioned Spin and you mentioned resizing from any corner (edge)

      The spin I have long wished to see has already been available with crop handles in Photoshop for years. Just create a crop and hold option while dragging a corner to see that the crop scales from the centre. This would be a nice feature on finder windows (or all application windows for that matter)

      Another feature I have longed for (and yet never mentioned to anyone) also comes from Photoshop. When I option click a check box in Photoshop’s layers palette one click will simultaneously check the current box and uncheck all others. I would like to see this as a systemwide checkbox behaviour

    4. Ivo Wiesner says:

      While we are at it…

      How about a Finder option which resizes and tiles all open windows? And this across applications, so that, for example, Safari, TextEdit, iTunes and Photoshop would occupy one quarter each of the screen.

      But even better, rather than remaining as separate windows, all application windows and documents would merge into *one* window filling the entire screen (similar to multiple, scrollable segments in a browser window). If now the individual application windows or segments could be freely resized within the main window (making one segment smaller automatically enlarges the adjoining segments), and files could be moved around from one application to another… That would be OS X heaven. Basically, this concept builds on Exposé while keeping all windows fully usable and all fonts at their original sizes.

    5. Thomas says:

      You can sort by any column in column/list view of Finder. I do it often.

    6. Steve says:

      Oh, you mean Windows is supposed to work that way? Somebody actually designed it to do that on purpose?

      I just always assumed that Windows was so buggy that applications would just up and quit on you when you closed a document window. It was consistent with a lot of the rest of my Windows experience. Sometimes even with MS apps on a Mac I seem to spend more time fighting off assistants, wizards, and warlocks that I do getting something done.

      As for quitting applications, I rarely do that. I usually have about 30 things running at a time, including Photoshop and Illustrator. They don’t occupy much space or processor time when not in use, but are there when I want them. This is on an old G4 tower, and OS X seems to manage it all quite well. Sometimes I’ve left all this stuff open when I was doing a short session of music with Digital Performer and a bunch of virtual musical instruments and real-time signal processors, and things did fine. If I’m going to do an extended session of music work with that level or greater of resources, I will quit the Adobe apps, just in case. In any event, I don’t want things dropping out on me just because I closed a window.

    7. mapple says:

      It would be nice if the Finder’s Get Info window supplied data in the “MORE INFO section, Where from:” that you could copy and paste. Right now, this is prevented. It’s nice to have the info but it arrives in a worthless format.

    8. Andrew says:

      Just because something is in Windows does not make it iinferior. I agree with Gene on closing the application when the last window is closed. I know the difference between close and quit, and even in Windows there is always the option to close the last document without quitting the application if you so desire in every application except for Internet Explorer, which tenchically is always running anyway).

      Other things I prefer from Windows are the way copying a folder on top of an older version will replace only the older documents, leaving existing files not in the new copy as they are. This is a big deal. I have a folder called “In Progress” on my thumbdrive where I save any work I do on the road, and on Windows I can just paste the folder back to my computer and not worry about losing old work. On a Mac, I have to open the folder and then copy only the documents themselves, lest I delete everything else on the Mac’s (older) version of that folder.

      Alt-Tab application switching is a command that most Mac users have come to rely on, but that too came to us courtesy of Windows 95. Little arrows on an Alias’ icon to differentiate it from an actual program, document or folder were added in Windows 95, then copied into OS 8.something.

      The point is that UI elements have been developed on both sides of the platform devide, and while most of the good ones came from Apple, Microsoft has had its share of good ideas as well. Where something works, it should be duplicated. In fact, enough duplication has gone on over the years that I find it extremely easy to switch back and forth between Windows and OS X. Yes, they look and feel different, but my work flow is unimpeded on either platform, and once open, applications just go about their business.

    9. George says:

      My biggest irritation with OS X is that iPhoto, Motion, etc., when I quit them, it takes so long for them to quit. I still see the name at the top left. Especially with Motion, I can actually go and force quit faster than Apple-Q will quit the program.
      Assuming people can remember to Apple-S or enable auto save, with high-end memory intensive apps, why can’t the speed of force quit just be incorporated into Apple-Q?? The old iPhoto would take at least 10 seconds to quit, but was cut to about 3 seconds after the latest iPhoto. Motion, however is lame. If I’ve saved my document, why can’t an app quit when I click quit or hit Apple-Q?? Lame.

    10. js says:

      They might as well remove the green “+” button from the top left of all the windows, it’s completely useless!

    11. David says:

      Gene’s Finder suggestions cover almost all my complaints. Even with 10.4.7 it seems like the Finder hangs when a network connection goes down. I don’t understand what’s going on under the hood, but networking related hangs have been a part of my Mac experience since I bought my IIsi and was running 7.0.1. Forteen years and a complete change of OS later and yanking the Ethernet cord is still the easiest way to bring a Mac to a complete halt.
      Andrew’s description of folder copying on Windows sounds like a built-in smart Sync function. That’s a fantastic idea.
      George, force quitting your applications doesn’t give them time to clean up caches so you’re probably leaving RAM marked as in use, temporary files on the HD and possibly even losing data. If you use an application frequently why not just leave it running? Surely you can afford to wait 10 or even 30 seconds at the end of the day.

    12. Kevin J. Weise says:

      Andrew, I think you have a point, but didn’t take it far enough. Both Mac OS X & Windows have a well-defined action when dragging & dropping folders, but they aren’t the same and both actions have somewhat opposed advantages & disadvantages. In both OS’s, when the destination folder of a copy has the same name as the source folder, you get a dialog box pointing out this fact with two option buttons, Cancel or Replace. I think the differences could be ironed out (in Mac OS X, at least), by including a third option Merge. That way the Replace would be a REAL Replace (as Mac OS X already does), and the Merge would be a REAL Merge (as Windows already does). Problem solved.

    13. Ivo Wiesner says:

      Something completely different:

      I just came across an article about 10.4.7 allegedly “phoning home” up to twice a day, not dissimilar to the new WGA routine in Windows. This was apparently discovered by some folks who have an app called “Little Snitch” running in the background. Freedom from spyware would certainly be right at the top of my wish-list for 10.5… Can anybody confirm the info?


    14. Eytan says:

      You cannot sort by anything other than name when in COLUMN view, which is what the article spoke about.

      MErging folders instead of replacing them with a copy folders has got to be one of the most STUPID things windows does. At least asking them if you want to replace or merge the folders would be an option, but not replacing when I do an act that SHOULD replace (and tells you it is replacing) is really bad UI

    15. Andrew says:


      You are absolutely correct. I’m sure there are those who would like an OS X-style replace in Windows just as I’d like a Windows-style Merge in OS X.

      My main point however was that both operating systems have been good-enough at least since Windows 2000 and Jaguar to not bother me, and while small improvements to both interfaces can be made, the truth is that neither is particularly annoying and both generally do what I want. Merge can be added to OS X with a utlity, I just haven’t bothered, and I really never liked OS X-style replace, so haven’t even looked into adding such a function to Windows.

      What I am glad about is that once in a given application, be it Photoshop, Word, Firefox or other, there is really very little difference in how they operate across platforms. I have no trouble at all thinking “Control” for Windows and “Command” for Mac OS, and other than that small difference, almost all commands are the same, at least the ones I regularly use. I am every bit as productive in any version of Word for Mac since 98 as I am in any version of Word for Windows since 97. The differences are very slight, and with what I do, are mainly limited to cosmetics.

      The one glaring exception in my line of work is that lack of a legal pleading wizard in the Mac versions. There is a template from Word 2001 for Mac that still works in Word 2004, but the wizard in Windows is superior and easier to customize for different courts. I am very fortunate that I live in the same state and thus follow the same court rules as the author of the old template, that small fact has saved me a lot of time.

    16. Chris says:

      They tried the quit-when-the-last-window-is-closed thing with OpenDoc, and then they tried to mandate it in the Mac OS 8 HI guidelines. Nobody bought. What quickly became apparent is that a nontrivial number of Mac users close the last window and expect to be able to open the next one from the File menu (oops!).

      Next, you might suggest a band-aid like waiting a certain amount of time before quitting, but then you have the user coming back five minutes later and wondering where the app went.

      I suggest just forgetting this one. It’s just not a big deal to leave the app running on OS X. If it’s written properly, an idle app occupies few resources, and zero CPU time. The RAM is paged out if it’s needed by something else. Let Apple work on the important stuff, like fixing the transient system hangs when a server goes down, as mentioned above.

    17. sjk says:

      @mapple, re:

      It would be nice if the Finder’s Get Info window supplied data in the “MORE INFO section, Where from:” that you could copy and paste.

      Yep, inability to copy from Get Info windows is frustrating. A couple workarounds for the More Info section:

      Drop a file on the Get Spotlight info half of the Highlight GUI and copy its metadata fields from the Highlight info window. Or, do whatever you like with output from the mdls command.

      [OT] Thanks a bunch for adding comment preview here, Gene.

    18. sjk says:

      What quickly became apparent is that a nontrivial number of Mac users close the last window and expect to be able to open the next one from the File menu (oops!).

      That’s amusing.

      Given the opportunity, I teach people (ASAP) to close windows with command-W and quit apps with command-Q shortcuts. And to check for the active foreground app name next to the blue apple logo if there’s any doubt which it is… something they may not be aware of even after having used a Mac for awhile. I know all too well how certain self-proclaimed “experienced” users (measured by usage time) overlook things that genuinely experienced users (measured by ability) take for granted. The former may spend all their time in just a few apps (which they know more thoroughly than I ever will), yet lack many fundamental, general system usage skills. One friend of mine who’d been using pre-X Mac OS for nearly 10 years didn’t know about shortcut (contextual) menus and control-clicking to invoke them. 😮

    19. Doug Young says:

      I find it frustrating as anything when I am searching a page in Windows and the ‘find’ window cannot remember the word i just typed into it when I try the same search in another window. Perhaps this [i]feature[/i] is a result of this behaviour

      Js, The green plus button is very useful. It makes a window fit it’s own contents. Of course if you haven’t realised this it’s functionality could seem somewhat opaque

    20. steve says:

      even in Windows there is always the option to close the last document without quitting the application if you so desire

      How do you do that?

      Is that something that is new with XP, something that is application-dependent, or just something that I missed all along?

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